Saturday, March 31, 2007

School Voucher Plan for Autistic Children Advances in Texas Senate

A proposal to allow autistic children in Texas to use vouchers to attend any public or private school won approval from a split Education Committee in the state Senate, The Dallas Morning News reported March 28. The 5-2 vote means that a bill to allow an estimated 17,000 children in the state with autism spectrum disorders moves to a vote in the full Senate, the newspaper said.

See The Morning News report online here. This news story covers the state Senate committee vote (Republicans voted in favor and Democrats against) and notes that families who have children with autism lobbied in favor of the bill as a way to get educational services for their kids. The teachers unions and education groups opposed it on the principle that any kind of voucher takes money out of the strained public schools pot.

Earlier coverage of this proposal noted that proponents of school vouchers have failed to win enough political support in the past to implement it; attaching the idea it to an issue like autism could be a way to get vouchers approved in Texas, according to this line of thinking.

The newspaper's report cited $14,000 per year as the average cost for educating a student with autism. Under the bill, parents opting to send their child to private school costing more would pay the difference.

Sen. Florence Shapiro, a Plano Republican, is the sponsor of Senate Bill 1000. You can see her February 28 press release on the bill here. A fact-sheet in support of the bill, nicknamed "ASAP" for Autism Services Accessibility Program, is available here (a one-page PDF file).

One of Shapiro's arguments is that a voucher plan for kids with autism makes economic sense. From her press release:

"Because symptoms can vary so greatly, a program that works for one child may not be effective for another," Shapiro said. "That is why individualized programs are so important."

Research shows that with appropriate intervention, almost 50 percent of children with autism can become indistinguishable from mainstream population. However, if proper services are not provided, the majority of adults with autism will require high-level care or institutionalization.

Senate Bill 1000 gives parents the option and the educational freedom to seek out appropriate intervention for their children, providing funding equal to the amount to which their child would be entitled in their home school district.

Also see:

Autism Takes Stage in Texas School Voucher Debate

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